I am not a political analyst, I try to avoid it, but it’s easier to get sucked in every time a tragedy happens somewhere in the western world. I see the exact same arguments: Why do we Arabs care so much about the atrocities that happen in the west and turn a blind eye to what is happening in our own backyard?
Well, the following may be rather harsh and it might rub some people the wrong way. Let’s look at some factors:
- The regional situation:
Region makes a difference: How often do we have bombings and targeted terrorist attacks in the Middle East? It’s an almost weekly occurrence. An Iraqi friend told me a few months ago is that they measure the relative safety in the Iraqi capital by the number of bombings they have per week.
Beirut is also no stranger to civil unrest, despite the civil war ending many years ago, the occasional bombing occurs. The ironic part in this context is that many Lebanese people are proud about how they resilient they are, and that while at times, a war would be waging in the south, they would be partying and ‘celebrating life’. It is also a common joke amongst Lebanese friends how they are unfazed when they hear ambulances, bomb noises, gunshots etc.
My beloved Palestine: Similar to the above – Stabbings, children and women getting killed regularly, raids on whole cities, family houses wiped out, whole neighborhood bombed over and over again (Mainly in Gaza). There is nothing new there, the same old Palestinian struggle against the Zionists for the past 60+ years. ‘El Katheye’ (The Palestinian Case of struggle’ is a term that is used sarcastically in many occasions.
Egypt, Libya, Bahrain etc. follow a similar pattern.
Where am I going with the above examples? The point is for the media and the world, the region is synonymous for violence, terrorism, bad news and killing that is no longer news. I will not be far off the mark by claiming that many Arabs have grown a thick skin about it as well.
How often do you have a bomb go off in Baghdad? Too often to our liking. How often do you hear of a terrorist attack in a first world country affecting tens of people, let alone hundreds/thousands? Not so often. The press, the commoners are not as likely to care about ‘more of the same’ than they care about a one-off case. The attacks that take place in the more modern countries are usually unprecedented, unexpected and genuinely surprising. Can we argue the same thing about an attack in Sinai or an air raid on a Syrian town? Guess not. A similar scenario would be the sad execution by ISIS of the Jordanian pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbeh, prior to that, there was negative sentiment obviously towards ISIS and their war crimes. After the horrific execution there was total outrage.
Let’s look at it differently, wouldn’t there be a big outreach if an earthquake or a natural disaster hits the GCC countries? Kind of ironic considering that Iran is hit by deadly earthquakes often, and they are just across the Arabian/Persian/call it whatever you want Gulf.
- Media influence and coverage:
This is somewhat related to the first point. I will use my ignorant, typical man on the street self as an example. I am not up to date with what is happening in the region. How do I get my news? I check Al Jazeera and BBC’s iPhone apps as often as I can. For the BBC, I turned on app and Twitter notifications for breaking news. I do not recall the bombings in Beirut or Baghdad making it to the list. Heck, I only found out about the one in Beirut from a Lebanese friend. I used to have Twitter notifications for Alarabiya’s breaking news page, but opted out after one headline too many that ‘so and so condones so and so’ and their mundane coverage of a recent ‘summit’ in Saudi where they literally live-tweeted the arrival of every single country’s representative…
Again, let’s look at the Paris attacks or the Nepal earthquake, they were all over the news. They were in your face, unavoidable. Twitter was rife with discussions and minute-by-minute updates. Facebook introduced their ‘Safety Check’ feature, all news sources were on it, friends were talking about it on Whatsapp groups and in one-to-one conversations. Does the same thing happen with our region’s catastrophes and mass-murders? Nope. Not often at least.
- Social perception:
So let’s say we start talking about every single attack, bombing and/or event in the Middle East, just to make things more balanced. We can do that, it will certainly raise more awareness. Do we want that? The region is full of depressing stories on daily basis. There is enough negativity in our lives and in the countries surrounding us as is. I do not know about other countries, but in Palestine, Jordan and the UAE people who discuss and talk about politics and ‘events’ way too often are encouraged to curb their activity for their own good. Some were deported from the gulf countries for taking things a tad too far.
Does the murder of a Lebanese family going to prayer not mean as much as the death of a French concert-goer or caricature artist? The answer you do not want to hear is yes. The world places more value on the latter than the former.